Alberta Village Manifesting New Stories as it Intentionally Builds Social Capital

Alberta Village Manifesting New Stories as it Intentionally Builds Social Capital

Residents experimenting with creating sustainable processes that foster deep inclusion

When a job placement required her to relocate to the village of Delburne, Alberta 13 years ago, Laurie-Anne Lemmon decided she wouldn’t get involved in the community.

“I did not want to be here,” Laurie-Anne says. “I loved where I had lived, my life was there, so I decided I was only staying as long as my job lasts and then I’m outta here.”

  Laurie-Anne is a member of Delburne's new grassroots communications group.

Feeling a lack of welcome in return from the many “born-and-bred-for-three-generations” local residents, she settled into a largely isolated existence.

That was her story for years.

Today, Laurie-Anne is living out a new story — that of becoming a vibrant citizen of the rural village of about 800.

She’s been attending some of the innovative community gatherings that have launched. And she’s joined a communications project that’s intended to help shape a new, possibility-oriented story of the village.

“I’ve been cheating myself by not getting involved,” Laurie-Anne says. “I’m realizing, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of nice people here to get to know’.”

While she doesn’t necessarily have some grand vision of what Delburne might become, Laurie-Anne does have a new and exciting sense of what’s possible given what’s been happening over the last year or so — the creation of a community garden, the revitalization of a local park that’s drawing people from in and outside Delburne, and a proposed new skate-park that many community members are actively getting behind.

Laurie-Anne credits the shift she’s experienced largely to a few residents who are leading the way in creating the conditions for more and deeper connections to happen within and to Delburne. One of these is Nora Smith, a Delburne Family and Community Support Services community worker who happens to live near Laurie-Anne.

“Having Nora living across the street from me has also helped (with me getting more involved),” Laurie-Anne says with a laugh.

  Some of the ideas that emerged in a gathering on fostering a greater sense of belonging amongst Delburne residents.

Clearly a gifted “bridge builder,” Nora has been at the forefront of an effort to draw Delburne into a new story of connection, resilience and thriving. All sorts of things have been happening as a result, including community gatherings that have yielded agreement on four priorities that residents want to work on — Main Street revitalization, health and well-being, a belonging project and a communications strategy.

A collective impact initiative is dovetailing with the work on these priorities to measure the growth of Delburne’s social capital. The Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities and Red Deer and District Family and Community Support Services have agreed to partner on this.

Nora and others are now experimenting with creating space for community members to gather and identify how they might contribute to actualizing the four priorities.

LeeAnne Shinski, a social work student and community volunteer who’s been working closely with Nora, says she’s been most energized by the invitation to residents to take ownership for an aspect of the community’s wellbeing that they want to and can — rather than building a plan and then asking them to fit into it.

She’s also excited by a kind of shared epiphany amongst those involved that the community’s resilience and thriving is directly linked to the strength of the connections between people.

“(The work we’re doing) is changing the way we act and the way we connect with people in the community in general,” LeeAnne says. “Instead of just putting our head down as we walk through Main Street, we realize those connections are important, so we’re talking to the neighbours as we go by.”

For Nora, the big question right now is, “How can we gather in such a way that more extraordinary connections are generated?”

She and LeeAnne have been learning about and experimenting with various facilitation methodologies, such as Appreciative Inquiry.

  A gathering centred on creating a new kind of communications experience in Delburne.

The Delburne effort is currently funded through community development dollars from Red Deer and District Family and Community Support Services. Other potential funding opportunities are also being explored. Nora says she has faith that as she and others continue “doing interesting things, connecting with people who are doing interesting things, the funding and the people that we need at the table will eventually trickle down our way.”

Delburne’s story reveals yet again that new possibilities are created when even just a few people step up and out with a yearning for something different, a gift for connecting and a thirst to learn.

“It only takes a few and I think it’s the enthusiasm of the few (that makes a difference),” Laurie-Anne says. “Nora always gets me interested because she’s so enthusiastic about what is happening.”

“It’s refreshing to hear that people are feeling more welcome all around,” Nora says, reflecting on Laurie-Anne’s story.

“It’s an intentional process to bridge relationships, so it’s nice to hear that (what we’re doing) is working.”

Emerging Activities and Insights:

1. A group of Delburne residents is working on creating a communications platform that best suits their community’s needs. They will then be identifying how best to shape their messaging.

Nora has been deeply inspired by the concept of Generative Journalism and its potential for transforming a culture. “The story you tell yourself is your reality. That’s how simple it is,” Nora says. “So then how do we get more thoughtful about the stories we say every day or how they get crafted or what we look at and then move forward on?”

2. Nora is also excited by the possibilities that could arise through drawing together a group of multi-sector players to explore melding the arts into community building. A portrait photography project last summer proved to be “super powerful” in engaging and connecting residents, and she’s keen to see more of that kind of activity.

3. Questions are pivotal in community gatherings that are intended to build deep connections. “The questions have to touch more than the intellect and get to the heart and emotions,” Nora says. “That’s when you’ll have action.”

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Michelle Strutzenberger's picture
Michelle Strutzenberger

Generative Journalist


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